Sam Darnold can only go up after his Week 1 performance. Or can he?
The Jets, of course, believe Darnold’s dud Sunday against the Bills wasn’t overly concerning. But if Darnold doesn’t show major improvement this season, especially playing for a head coach who eats, drinks and sleeps offense, it could affect the Jets’ draft plans and who’s coaching the team next year.
Adam Gase is not popular among Jets fans, but he is among the decision makers in the organization and with the quarterback. If playoffs aren’t the edict, then progress of the quarterback in particular has to be.
This was supposed to be the season that Darnold showed he can really lead a team, prove he’s the franchise quarterback that can change the narrative about the team. It’s his third year in the NFL, the second in Gase’s system. All the talk leading up to Sunday was about how comfortable Darnold is and about the command he’s showing in the huddle and within the offense.
Darnold showed none of that in Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Buffalo, a game the Jets trailed 21-0 in the second quarter.
The Jets’ overhauled offensive line graded well, particularly Mekhi Becton, who had a "pretty dang good first game," according to new center Connor McGovern. They gave Darnold time. But he wasn’t poised. He wasn’t sharp. He rushed things.
Darnold looked rattled and unsure, as he did in that infamous Monday night game last year against the Patriots when he said he saw "ghosts." He was only picked off once Sunday, but his throws were off, way off, and he had receivers open.
"My timing needs to be better," Darnold said. "I did hurry some things. At the beginning of the game, I have to relax and take a deep breath, ease myself into it and make my throws when they’re there."
The beginning was dismal for Darnold and the Jets. They ran nine plays in the first three series and gained 4 yards total. Darnold completed 1 of 6 passes for zero yards. His receivers were reaching and diving for balls or just had no chance of catching them. That’s on Darnold, and he took responsibility.
"I kick myself a lot for missing throws and missing three in a row that I usually don’t miss," he said. "That’s what I really look at the most. For me, it’s little things. It’s taking a deep breath, playing a little slower, quieting my feet down."
On the Jets’ fourth series, Darnold threw it right into Jamison Crowder’s arms. He dropped it. That’s on Crowder. But on the next series, which opened with a delay of game, Darnold was picked off when he rolled left and threw it across his body and into the middle of the field.
Then, in the third quarter, Darnold made another poor decision and it cost the Jets a touchdown. It was the kind you don’t expect a third-year quarterback to make.
Darnold was scrambling to his right and Crowder was open in front of him. Crowder broke downfield and waved for the ball. It should have been a touchdown that would have made it 21-17. But Darnold never threw the ball. He didn’t throw it away, either. Darnold ended up taking a 5-yard sack.
"We left way too many yards on the field on Sunday," Darnold said. "We left way too many yards out there."
Darnold is only 23. He’s still learning and improving. But these are plays Darnold has to make. Jets fans want to blame Gase for everything, but a franchise quarterback has to make those plays.
Last year, after many games — and losses — Gase often said he should have called a different play in a certain situation. Gase would shoulder the blame for a Darnold pick. It was telling that this time, Gase didn’t do that when he was asked if he wished he did anything different.
"With what they were calling defensively, no," he said. "There are some things that I look back at practice that I wish we would have maybe repped more of. We missed opportunities early that really set us back."
Gase did say he has to find a way to get Darnold in a better rhythm. Gase’s future employment is tied to Darnold. The quarterback would help his coach and the Jets if he shows all the things that were talking points about him throughout training camp. Otherwise, there could be plenty of re-evaluating inside 1 Jets Drive.